This summer I was fortunate to be selected as a presenter at NAESP 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland on student engagement as a means to increase student learning. Having been in education now for 23 years, and having seen numerous initiatives and fads come and go, I feel as though student engagement is a mindset and a focus that is perennial to good teaching.
Over the past seven years, my current position of principal at Fiske Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts has allowed me to continue working with staff and students in ways that promote engagement across the school setting. This, in part, has helped us continue to promote high levels of learning in an already high performing school.
I’m well aware of pedagogy and teaching practices that support learning, having been a classroom teacher and an administrator that focused on and still focuses on well developed lessons, appropriate content and objectives, developmentally appropriate teaching, etc. However, even if all of the above things are in place, if students are disengaged, you will not enter into any significant learning.
So what can schools do to promote student engagement during an era of accountability and heavy data use? There is really no “silver bullet” to student engagement, however, there are simple and thoughtful things schools can do that will promote engagement and support learning.
Most importantly, relationships should be at the forefront. James Comer noted that “No significant learning happens without a significant relationship.” It is imperative that the belief about forming relationships permeates your school. That means teacher to student, administrator to student, teacher to teacher and administrator to teacher.
This does not happen overnight…relationships are cultivated over time and built on trust, respect, and honesty. I’ve always known the importance of these relationships, however, I feel that over the past several years, I’ve worked to place an even heavier emphasis on them for the benefit of students.
It is crucial that teachers quickly build relationships with students and get to know them as learners and as individuals. It is also important for administrators to know the students in their school. I work to try and know every single student in my school. It is a challenge with almost 500 students, but I feel that it is important to have connections with them and to know about them as much as possible. I also work hard to know my staff as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m best friends with them, however, it means that I know about them as people, celebrating their successes, their challenges, and helping them meet the needs of students.
As we build relationships, we do some of the following activities to promote engagement for all stakeholders in our school:
- Highlight and promote every student in the school over the course of the year through our “Student of the Week” program.
- Promote positivity and gratitude with staff through our Golden Owl Award, Give a WHOOT Grams and Thankful Thursdays.
- Use a student Twitter center as one means to give students voice, share positive information about school and model appropriate social media use.
- Deliver positive messages to staff and students related to #celebratemonday, valuing students as individuals, and valuing contributions made by both staff and students.
- Clearly identify expected behaviors and work to support those expectations through our school wide system of PBIS which includes student-administrator lunches, preferred assembly seating and positive phone calls home.
These are just a handful of things we do to promote student engagement. Our hope is that by working to find ways to engage ALL students, we will capitalize on their level of connectedness to promote and support greater levels of learning.
Did something here catch your eye? Want to know more about a specific way we promote student engagement? You can view my presentation from NAESP2016 at this link: https://goo.gl/iDBAaE , E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Twitter @tommartellone.